Teen who sued school over ban for refusing vaccine now has chickenpox

Teen who sued school over ban for refusing vaccine now has chickenpox

Jerome Kunkel, an 18-year-old student at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Assumption Academy in Walton, Kentucky, refused to get vaccinated for the chickenpox due to his religious beliefs. As a result, he was temporarily banned from school and playing sports due to a recent outbreak.

In a letter sent to parents in February, the Northern Kentucky Health Department explained that students without proof of vaccination or proof of immunity against chickenpox will not be allowed to attend school until 21 days after the onset of a rash on student or staff member.

"The fact that I can't finish my senior year in basketball, like, our last couple of games, it's pretty devastating," Kunkel told NBC affiliate WLWT. "I mean, you go through four years of high school playing basketball, you look forward to your senior year."

vaccine Credit: Getty

The family announced in March plans to sue the Kentucky Health Department over the ban. Jeremy's father, Bill Kunkel, told WLWT that he did not vaccinate his son against the highly contagious disease because it was against his Christian faith. According to their lawsuit, the Kunkel family, who are Catholic, believe the chickenpox vaccine was derived from aborted fetal cells. "The use of any vaccine that is derived from aborted fetal cells is immoral, illegal, and sinful," the lawsuit states.

Vaccines for numerous diseases, including rubella, hepatitis A and chickenpox, were developed from cell lines obtained from two legal, elective abortions in the 1960's. However, as reported by ABC affiliate WHAS, Vice and other news outlets, no further fetal cells were used, and these cell lines are three generations removed from their origin. The Catholic Church has given the green light for worshippers to use those vaccines, and encourages parents to vaccinate their children against totally preventable diseases.

On Wednesday, Kunkel family attorney Christopher Wiest told reporters that Jeremy now has the chickenpox and started showing symptoms of the illness last week. However, the family has no regrets about not getting vaccinated. "These are deeply held religious beliefs, they're sincerely held beliefs," Wiest told NBC News. "From their perspective, they always recognized they were running the risk of getting it, and they were OK with it."

"The ban was stupid," Wiest added. "He could have contracted this in March and been back to school by now."

Adult woman with Chickenpox Credit: Getty

State health officials say Jeremy can return to class once his chickenpox lesions have scabbed over, and criticized Wiest for "downplaying the dangers of the chickenpox." "Encouraging the spread of an acute infection disease in a community demonstrates a callous disregard for the health and safety of friends, family, neighbors and unsuspecting members of the general public," said Laura Brinson, a spokeswoman for the Northern Kentucky Health Department, in a statement.

As explained by the Northern Kentucky Health Department's letter, chickenpox is "an illness characterized by a blister-like rash." and "spreads easily, mainly when a person touches or breathes in the virus that comes from chickenpox blisters." The disease is considered "especially dangerous for infants and anyone that is immunocompromised or pregnant," and complications can include "bacterial infections, pneumonia, encephalitis, Reye’s syndrome, sepsis and even death."